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Due to shipping and supply chain issues, organizers of annual event leaning on multiple food drives

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Holiday Partnership volunteers, shown in 2019, will soon gather to distribute food boxes to local families in need.

Work has begun on the Holiday Partnership, and organizers are trying to help as many qualified families in need as possible this Christmas season.

The primary early-going efforts include outreach to potential applicants who would receive food boxes and donated Christmas gifts and food drives to fill the boxes that go out to families next month.

Both efforts face challenges that the Partnership has not encountered in the past. The food collection work is more difficult because of ongoing product shipment issues that have left store shelves emptier in recent weeks.

"Because of the supply chain issues, we are truly unsure how much food we would be able to get in our normal orders," said Brandi Ebner, executive director of Crook County Foundation, the organization leading the Partnership effort. "All of the grocery stores in town are doing their best, but they just don't know necessarily what will come in shipments."

Consequently, the program is leaning on local food drive competitions between local businesses and emergency services organizations.

"We have been so grateful this year for the number of businesses and organizations in the community that have stepped up early to tackle food drives and food drive challenges with each other," Ebner said. "The food drives this month and next month will be vital for filling those food boxes and making sure all of our applicants get the food that they need for a good holiday meal."

This is the second Christmas season that the Crook County Foundation will lead the Holiday Partnership effort. The organization took it over during a time of transition in terms of how applicants are contacted.

"It used to be that DHS mailed the application directly to everyone in their database who qualified," Ebner explained. "However, with changes of staffing and computer systems and DHS staff being so overwhelmed with their own work, for them to do that on top of their regular work is just not possible anymore. So, when we took over the program last year, we had to come up with another method to get people to apply."

Ebner said that DHS staff is still helping the effort – they are encouraging visiting clients to apply, and they are offering to help people who need assistance filling out applications.

Eligibility guidelines are offered on the Holiday Partnership website (ccholidaypartnership.com) and Ebner added that people who are currently receiving DHS services or qualify for food from the St. Vincent de Paul food bank will likely be eligible for Holiday Partnership services.

The deadline to apply is Wednesday, Nov. 17.

"We are really trying to get those who qualify to apply. We really want to get as many people as possible covered and get those turned in by the Nov. 17 deadline, so we know exactly how many individuals in our community need support this year," Ebner said. "The hardest group for us to reach is seniors who qualify, especially since the senior center hasn't been able to be open during this pandemic. We don't have that direct link to a lot of our seniors."

After the application deadline, during Thanksgiving week, Holiday Partnership organizers will place Trees of Joy with gift tags available throughout the community. In addition to the early-going needs for applicant outreach and food collection, Partnership leaders will need help shopping for requested gifts, wrapping gifts and delivering food boxes and gifts on Distribution Day shortly before Christmas. Consequently, the Partnership is in continual need of volunteer help.

Despite a 2020 effort stunted by a pandemic and challenged by a late change in leadership, the Holiday Partnership still managed to serve nearly 500 families and more than 1,400 individuals. Ebner expects to see those numbers increase this year.

"We expect more applications this year," she said. "We think there is a bigger need, and more people are aware that it (the Partnership effort) is happening."


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